AKRON: A few weeks ago Bobby Spino was having a casual conversation in the parking lot of Ohio Prestwick Country Club. The topic was the upcoming Ohio Senior Open at Firestone Country Club, an event and site where Spino lamented having lackluster finishes.

“One of these years, I’m going to play well in that event,” he said.

One of these years came Thursday when Spino, a native of Canton now living in nearby New Franklin, shot a three-under 67 to become just the fourth amateur – and first since 2016 — to win the Senior Open in its 39-year history.

The event was shortened to 18 holes for just the second time after dastardly weather on Wednesday turned the Fazio Course into more of a survival test than a golf tournament.

Ultimately, the Northern Ohio PGA officials had no choice but to cancel the round half-way through before someone came down with pneumonia or drowned in the persistent rain.
Spino’s 67 was one shot better than fellow amateur and boyhood friend and competitor, Dr. Jeff Mallette (33-35=68) and Harold Wallace, a professional from tiny McDermott, Ohio, located about 22 miles from Portsmouth. Wallace also shot 33-35.
What’s better than winning a significant event that drew 144 entrants from approximately 80 cities, including 63 professionals?
Winning on your 59th birthday, that’s what. The number 59 is significant in golf, so it only seemed fitting.

“It was my day,” said Spino, who attended Perry High School and is the owner of Crest Roofing. “I mean it was my birthday and the first round was cancelled. That might have made it easier.”
The stars aligned.

Spino’s victory snapped a five-year Senior Open winning streak by Dublin’s Bob Sowards, who was one of seven players to shoot 3-over 73 and finish in a tie for 16th.
Not one to make excuses, Sowards, the Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club in suburban Columbus, had partial knee replacement surgery last fall and he appeared to struggle at times.

The cancellation of the first round turned the 36-hole tournament into an 18-hol sprint instead of a mini marathon. It was important to get off to a great start and Spino did just that.
The reigning club champion at Prestwick, chipped in for birdie from just in front of the green on the opening hole. A two-foot putt on the 202-yard third and a 10-footer on the 337-yard fifth got Spino to 3-under through five holes and on his way to a 4-under 31 on the front nine.

Spino caught a break on the 594-yard ninth when his third shot from about 60 yards stopped about two feet from the hole after his ball hit the ball of playing partner Bob Stephens, of Springboro. That led to the fourth of Spino’s six birdies on the day.

Spino suffered the first of back-to-back bogeys on the 421-yard 11th when he three-putted from 50 feet and followed when his tee shot on the 145-yard 12th plugged in the right bunker and he failed to get it up and down.

“It was a fried egg,” Spino said of his lie. “I couldn’t do much with it.”
In what might have been the turning point of the round Spino countered the two bogeys with a come-back birdie on the 478-yard 13th when he chipped to six feet and made the putt. He then saved par on the 132- 14th by making a 17-footer.

“The birdie and the par save were big after the two bogeys,” Spino said. “It gave me a lift.”
His final birdie of the day came when he chipped to three feet on the 506-yard 17th, getting him to 4-under. A bogey on the closing hole gave him three on the day against six birdies.
“Winning here against this field is huge,” he said. “It’s a state tournament.”

The last amateur to win the Senior Open was Canton’s Nick Lambos in 2016. Other non-pros to win were Ashland’s Jack Miller in 1990 and Chuck Smith in the inaugural in 1986. Both came at Plum Brook Country Club.

SENIOR PLUS: Pat Delaney, head professional at Reid Memorial Park in Springfield, won the 60-and-over division over a field of 45 with a two-under 68 (35-33). That edged Perrysburg amateur Terry Tyson (34-35=69) by one shot. Delaney, 69, had four birdies and one double bogey in winning after a third-place finish last year. He birdied two of the three par-5s on the inward nine.

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Tim is a Contributing Writer for the Northern Ohio PGA. Award-winning golf writer and sports reporter for the Plain Dealer, now retired. Contributor to the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, AP, other national publications.